On behalf of 15 named plaintiffs and tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Flint, the ACLU of Michigan filed a class action civil right lawsuit in Flint on Oct. 18, 2016, documenting ongoing violations of federal education laws by the State of Michigan and local school authorities.
Flint families filed a complaint in U.S. District Court with attorneys from the ACLU of Michigan, the Education Law Center in New Jersey, and White & Case, a New York-based law firm. The lawsuit seeks class action status, injunctive relief and immediate remedies on behalf of thousands of Flint families. Defendants are the Michigan Department of Education, Flint Community Schools and the Genesee Intermediate School District.
Read the stories of some of the plaintiffs in the case
Chandrika Walker is a lifelong resident of Flint and a graduate of Flint schools, where she was an honor student. She has two children, a four-year old son and a two-month old daughter. Her son was exposed to lead tainted water for a period of almost two years.
Walker’s son tested positive for high levels of lead in his bloodstream in 2014, but the county health officials didn’t inform her about the results until nearly a year later.
“They knew for a whole year that my son had this lead in him,” and I didn’t know about it,” said Walker. “I was very upset about it. I just want to try to get all the kids all the help they need.”
“He did have rashes,” Walker recalls. “But I didn’t know it was the water. ” She was unable to place her son in pre-school during the 2015-2016 school year, despite repeated phone calls. He was recently enrolled in a Head Start program.
Nakiya Wakes moved to Flint in 2014. She is the mother of two children: a seven-year old boy with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a teen-age girl with epilepsy.
In 2015, Wakes became pregnant with twins. She miscarried both children, an event she believes is connected to her own exposure to lead-tainted water.
Wakes and her children drank, cooked and bathed in lead for nearly two years. Her children still have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream, though at a lower concentration than was measured earlier.
“The damage has been done,” says Wakes. “We’ve been drinking it since 2014 and this is 2016. Our water is still poison, and we have to pay the city for our water. We’re not in a third-world country, we should be able to drink the water. They call this pure Michigan, and we’re getting pure poison. This is ridiculous.”
Because Flint tap water is still unsafe to drink, Wakes and her children struggle with the daily inconvenience – and indignity – of trying to live on bottled water. “You can go to the fire station and they’ve give you one gallon,” she says. “I have me and two kids and one gallon is not going to be enough for us.”
Racheal Kirksey is a lifelong resident of Flint. She has two children, a three-year old daughter and a six-year old son. She lives in the city with her mother, Sharrol Little, a retired GM worker.
Kirksey’s son and daughter, both exposed to lead-tainted water, “are very sweet, bright, happy children,” she says. But she has been disappointed in the lack of services available. She has been trying, without success, to enroll her three-year-old daughter in pre-school.
Early childhood education and intervention is highly recommended for children who have suffered lead exposure, and it is one of the services for Flint described in Governor Snyder’s 75-point action plan in response to the Flint water crisis. Actual services, however, are hard to come by.
“She’s really ready to learn,” says Kirksey. “We can’t find an early child development center or a Head Start to put her in. Every time you call, you get a voice mail, you never get an actual person to call or return your phone call.
“There was a school right around the corner from here, it had a Head Start for children her age. They closed it.”
“What’s frustrating is, you get pamphlets in the mail, it says, ‘Coming soon a new school for children age six months to fie and six.’ You’ll call the numbers, dead voice mail, no call back. I’ve made 100 calls to different programs. I never actually talk to a human being.”
Kirksey’s son, she reports, has had health issues from the time when he was drinking and bathing in contaminated water. “I noticed his skin began to break out I hives all over his body. It has never went away,” she says.
“It makes me frustrated and angry, to know I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy child. To know he’s sick and helpless, I feel like I failed him.”
Kirksey’s son, who has autism and ADHD, has not been well-served by Flint Community Schools. “They are failing him as a student. He has issues and no one knows how to help him with his issues.”